ALL WOMAN

LeAnn Rimes is grown up now -- just take a look!

Story by Chris Neal

Is LeAnn Rimes that wholesome, cutie-pie kid with the grown-up voice who took the world by storm singing the old-fashioned "Blue"?

Or is she the woman we see now - a scantily clad 20-year-old singing sultry, pop-flavored come-ons?

For the answer, look no further than the title of her new CD: Twisted Angel. The "angel," she explains, is that little girl she used to be, "twisted" by time and hard-won wisdom into a strong woman.

Only now can LeAnn make a stand for herself as an independent adult. That's because the whirlpool of scandal and lawsuits that dragged her down for the last several years has finally given way to the calm waters of domestic happiness as her marriage to dancer Dean Sheremet approaches the one-year mark.

Twisted Angel is the culmination of all that trouble and trauma, LeAnn's own declaration of independence from the teen-star life she now says made her feel "like I was going insane. I was in a fishbowl. I couldn't go anywhere or do anything."

During that turbulent time, LeAnn played more than 100 shows a year, driving herself to exhaustion. During one 1998 concert in Colorado, as she was preparing to sing "Blue," she almost passed out and had to be carried offstage.

Soon after, she started the long, painful process of climbing out of the fishbowl by leaving Nashville for Los Angeles, where fewer people knew who she was. Then she made her most shocking move of all: She sued her father/manager, Wilbur Rimes - who then countersued, calling her "a spoiled brat." She also sued her record label, Curb, demanding to be cut loose from a contract she said would have bound her for another decade and as many as 28 albums.

Now all the lawsuits are over, though LeAnn jokes that she's spent so much time in court she "could definitely pass a bar exam today." She reconciled with her father just before her February wedding, and smoothed things out with Curb late last year. "I'm starting to rebuild relationships," she reports. "Everyone's very supportive, even my father."

Most important, LeAnn is now in control of her life - and her look. The cover of a recent Blender magazine, featuring a topless, provocatively posed LeAnn, seems a million miles away from the childlike, little-girl innocence of her earlier photo shoots - and that's the way she wants it.

"People need to let me change," she simply says.

She's also fully in charge of her music. Twisted Angel is the first LeAnn Rimes album not produced by her father, and every aspect of it was under LeAnn's own control. She co-wrote four of the songs and worked with the writers of the others to make certain they reflected her personality, experience and attitude.

Some listeners have taken the album's more confrontational numbers as a kiss-off to Wilbur - but, in fact, LeAnn admits she's rid herself of several unhealthy relationships, and the songs reflect those cut ties. "People think it's just about my dad," she says. "It's not."

One relationship she plans never to end is the one with husband Dean. The couple, who now lives in L.A. with their six dogs, has been apart for only a few days since they first began dating, and they show no sign of tiring of one another's company anytime soon. "After the first date," she recalls, "I was telling people, 'This is the guy I want to marry.' "

LeAnn takes responsibility for her own role in her former unhappiness - she craved the limelight from an early age, and singing still gives her great joy. But if she and Dean have children, there's one mistake she promises not to make.

"I'd never stick my kids in this business before they were 18," she swears.

"It's too tough."

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